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Yes, they made history

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks after a meeting of the Democratic Caucus on Sunday.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) speaks after a meeting of the Democratic Caucus on Sunday. (Lauren Victoria Burke/associated Press)
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It is also worth remembering that when Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act in 1935, he was properly modest. FDR insisted that "we can never insure one hundred percent of the population against one hundred percent of the hazards and vicissitudes of life."

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He knew that his bill was more a beginning than an end. The Social Security Act, Roosevelt said, "represents a cornerstone in a structure which is being built but is by no means complete."

That's exactly true of the reform Congress enacted Sunday night. It does not quite cover everyone -- Social Security didn't, either -- and that must be taken care of. There will be years of wrangling over the system's costs and how it works in practice. Every successful health system in the world confronts such arguments. This new law will not end all our health-care problems (no law could), but it does a great deal for access, and it makes solving other problems a little easier. Above all, it puts us on a new path.

For Obama, this struggle was transformative. He began his administration full of hope that his campaign pledge to achieve concord across party lines was a realistic possibility. But when faced with implacable Republican opposition, he jettisoned the happy talk and came out fighting.

If bipartisanship is more fashionable than partisanship, partisanship with a purpose is infinitely preferable to paralysis. Obama has made clear that he will reach out when he can, and do battle when he must.

By temperament, the president is more a consensus builder than a warrior. But he is also a practical man who wants to accomplish big things. On Sunday, he did just that on health care, and he earned a place in history.

ejdionne@washpost.com


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